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Drink, Worry and Death Cannot Touch Me. I Am 17

I am 17 and soaring like a hawk. I am uncaged and powerful and in control, and I cannot be felled. When I am flying free like this, alone and unfettered among the clouds, I am immortal.

I am in high school and starting to learn for the first time who I really am. The freedom to learn that is the most overwhelming thing I’ve ever experienced, and sometimes the impact of the word itself-- freedom --both thrills and terrifies me. Instinctively, I want it. I demand it. Most days, I crave it.

Until now, I’ve seen my life mostly in terms of limitations--the things I could not do, the places I could not go--but now, for whatever reason, I have the power. The adult world--my parents, my teachers, society at large--retains some hold over me, but even they seem to understand their grip is loosening, that the balance is shifting. Even they realize I am ready to fly.

What do I do with this freedom? With this power of flight? In which direction do I fly?

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When I review the entire picture, my possibilities are staggering:

I now have the power to think new thoughts, free of my parents’ unchallenged influence.

I now have the power to do more good and helpful things for other people.

I now have the power to begin shaping my own destiny.

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Also, I now have the power to be self-destructive in ways I never had before.

It is this last thing that hangs me up. I had thought that freedom came with no strings attached, but now I see otherwise.

I never wanted to have the power to kill myself, but now I have it. On any Friday or Saturday night--or any other night--I can kill myself. That is the furthest thing from my mind, but suddenly I have some thinking to do.

I’m talking about drinking and driving. It isn’t as though I’ve waited all through my adolescent life, just so I could go out and drink. When I stop and think about such a scenario, it sounds pretty stupid. I don’t consider myself stupid.

I’ve seen my parents and their friends drinking, and I have watched since childhood the entertaining beer commercials on TV. The last thing I want to do with my newfound freedom is copy my parents, so why am I drawn to drink?

I associate drinking with being older. Maybe I think drinking will make me grow up faster.

And, if I drink, I can more quickly get to that unexplored territory of an altered state of mind. That’s part of being free, isn’t it?

Teen-agers drink in every town in America. My friends scoff at teen-agers who don’t drink, as though they’re forfeiting their freedom to do so. You might say it’s a tradition. Who am I to buck tradition?

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Yes, I suppose there’s danger. Yes, someone must drive us home after a night of drinking on the sly. Not to worry, though. There’s always someone who can drive. Or, at least, someone who can drive better than anyone else in the group.

I don’t really want to drink, but who needs the aggravation from friends? I have a hard time believing that a few beers can make me lose judgment. I’m too strong for that.

If truth be told, though, when my friends aren’t around, I worry. I think about my life that’s in front of me, the plans I have for myself, and then I see how my friends are when they drive drunk. I feel our car swerve across into another lane, see the blur of other headlights, and hear the laughter from our car as we settle back into our lane.

I tell myself we’ll always get home. I don’t like to think about what might have been. If I do, it scares me. At times like that, I wonder what the point of drinking would be if we ever got in a wreck, or if our car killed someone else. I quickly put those thoughts out of my mind. I tell myself I’m too good for this--too good to use my power to get drunk on a Saturday night. I ask myself why I turn my life over to a drunk driver, knowing that one mistake could kill.

Could kill . . . who?

Surely not me. There’s no way I could get killed. It could never happen to me or my friends.

I am a hawk gliding above the trees. For the first time in my life I see everything--past, present and future--so very clearly.

Others may be brought down, but not me. I have a future and the power to make it happen.

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I am 17 and I am soaring. Getting drunk with my friends and driving blindly through the darkness cannot stop me.

Nothing can stop me. I am flying high and I am immortal.

Dana Parsons’ column appears Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Readers may reach Parsons by writing to him at The Times Orange County Edition, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, CA 92626, or calling (714) 966-7821.


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